A Guide to getting started

Introduction to the Extended Essay:

Students in the International Baccalaureate school program will, in their Diploma years, write a piece of coursework knows as “The Extended Essay”. The Extended Essay, also known as EE, is a 4000-word essay written in a subject of the students choosing and gives students the ability to test the waters of university level research under the guidance of a supervisor, further building a foundation for undergraduate studies.

The EE is worth 32 marks accumulated from 6 criterion, whose grade contributes to the 3 supplementary marks, in addition to Theory of Knowledge (TOK.)


The 6 criterion are as follows:

A: Focus and method (6 marks) Focuses on topic choice, quality of research and quality of the research methods.
B: Knowledge and Understanding (6 marks) Focuses on the quality of communication of information within the context of the research question. (How relevant the selected information is in answering the research question).
C: Critical Thinking (12 marks) Focuses on the level of research done, the quality of the analysis regarding the research question, and the ability to evaluate information and sources gathered.
D: Presentation (4 marks) Looks at the layout of the paper, whether it’s appropriate for the chosen research topic, whether it’s easy to read, and how well the different compartments of the paper are structured.
E: Engagement (6 marks) Based on the student reasoning for choosing their topic, and why their research is important.

Deciding on a Subject:

The IBO allows students to write their EE in any of the approved subjects. Students, however, are encouraged to pick a topic within the 6 subjects they take, as they would have some base knowledge to build on. This section explores what goes into picking the right topic for yourself.

The Extended Essay can be written in any of the following subjects:

Biology Chemistry Physics
Math Languages (including English literature) History
Geography Business World Studies

When writing the EE, it is important to play to one’s strengths. It is generally recommended to complete the EE in a subject taken at higher level, a class you are doing relatively well in, with a specific topic of interest. In terms of the topic range, students are free to do just about anything, but it is important to be realistic. You will have a lot of deadlines to meet, as well as coursework in your respective classes, so it’s important to pick a topic, that although challenges and interests you, is also feasible and won’t cause you to neglect any other work.

Most of the subject areas are self-explanatory but World Studies, is specific to the EE and combines 2 subjects for students whose topics might benefit from analysis of two different perspectives. The chosen topic must be of global significance, which has to be reflected throughout the EE. This can include topics surrounding global health, terrorism, climate change, migration and more. Your topic must fit into one of the following categories but can be explored using any two of the permitted diploma subjects.

Conflict, peace, and security Conflict, peace, and security
Equality and inequality Health and development
Environmental and/or economic sustainability Science technology and society

Finally, once you have decided on a subject area and general topic it comes to writing the research question. Your research question should be very specific and detailed. Refrain from questions that can be answered through “yes or no” to allow more room for evaluation. An open-ended question will allow you to delve deeper into your analysis and make a more comprehensive argument.

The Writing Process

Writing the EE can be challenging, and it may be difficult to know where to begin, but there are a few ways to make the process run smoother.

The general structure of the write up is made of the introduction, body of the essay, and conclusion.

The introduction consists of a few paragraphs (500-700 words) explaining your chosen topic of research and any extra information an examiner would need to gain a good understanding of your investigation. It is recommended to begin writing the introduction before the rest of the EE, but for some it’s easier to go back and finalise it once the full analysis has been done.

The main body is made up of research, analysis, discussion, and evaluation. You should introduce your sources of research and begin to lay out any data or evidence you have found supporting your argument. This data should be presented neatly, and all images/ tables should be titled and referenced. When it comes to the analysis it is crucial that the writing is not descriptive, but rather analytical. There should be a focus on the reasoning behind the data or the significance of findings and not just stating previously obtained data. Analysis can also involve comparing information from different sources where necessary. The discussion and evaluation ask students to defend their findings against sources that may show different results, as well as evaluating the sources used.

The conclusion is the final section of the EE and involves laying out findings and answering the research question. It should highlight any key information that was mentioned in the main body, as well as any unsolved limitations that may be relevant. By the end of the conclusion, an answer should have been formulated to the initially proposed research question. 

Tips and Tricks: From a former IB student:

It is suggested to begin writing the EE during the summer holidays. This can aid in time management and will reduce stress once coursework deadlines begin to overlap.

Referencing is a key part of the EE. One consistent referencing style should be used throughout the entire paper, and the bibliography should be organised alphabetically. To make this easier its recommended to do the references throughout the writing process instead of all at the end and keep them organised when editing the document.

Prioritise the main body over the introduction. It’s important to do some initial research to get an understanding on the research question and data available but before drafting up a full introduction it can be more beneficial to begin with the analysis. This is because it will guide the introduction of the EE based on the available data. Sometimes small changes have to be made to the research question based on the availability of data so it’s good to ensure beforehand that there is sufficient data for analysis.

For a scientific EE, if it involves running an experiment, ensure that your experiment is not only feasible but is also not overly time consuming. As an IB student you will have many labs, Internal Assessments, and other coursework, meaning your data should not take more than a few weeks to collect.

Finally, make use of the support provided throughout the writing process. If undergraduate studies are your next step, papers with similar structures to that of the EE will be assigned all the time, but the support provided to write them will be much less. As students maximise the opportunity to learn more about academic writing with the guidance of your supervisor.

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